I was uncertain about this film but it turned out to be hugely entertaining. The directors are two Americans who had a band in the 80’s that never really amounted to much but in the course of trying to make it they encountered Steve Leach, a Liverpool based band promoter who told them he was the one to discover and originally promote the Beatles. While they took all this with a grain of salt at the time, they decided to revisit the story many years later. As they started to track down Leach and do some research they realized they were on to a real story. The title of the film comes from the often used “fifth beatle” that has been applied to Pete Best – the first drummer for the group, Brian Epstein – the first major promoter, or George Martin – their record producer. Steve Leach turns out to be a major Liverpool promoter who was behind many of the Mersey Beat bands like the Searchers, the Swinging Blue Jeans etc. He and another promoter Allan Williams booked the band into local clubs but did not have the connections to take them to London and beyond. Brian Epstein took the band away from Leach in the early 60’s and had the money to give them the opportunities they needed to become the huge success they became. Nonetheless it all might have fallen apart without the support and work that Leach and Williams and Pete Best’s mother gave them at the very start. The charm of the film is the interviews with all these ageing Liverpool characters and Liverpool itself. Leach and Williams were funny and not at all bitter about losing out on the huge success. Another surprise is Pete Best who contributed so much to the film and the early success of the band but who was unceremoniously dumped by Epstein in favour of Ringo, another local drummer who was not nearly as talented. Best is also over the bitterness so the film is not angry at all but rather an interesting and charming story of the early days of the Beatles and the Mersey Beat.
Opening day at TIFF16. Instead of attending a Gala some of us attended some smaller openings like the world premiere of Karl Marx City. This is a documentary about communist rule in East Germany and the STASI, the East German security organization that spied primarily on its own citizens, literally all of them. It was also about the impact of the sudden dropping of the Berlin Wall and how that dramatic change affected lives in the East and not always in positive ways. I think that was one of the most revealing messages of the film. Not that the communists were okay by any means but that ordinary people get used to life if it is not too interruptive of their lives and the disruption of sudden change can be devastating. The film explores these themes through a very personal story. The director was born and raised in East Germany and left to live in the US. One Christmas not long after the fall of the Wall, she learns that her father has committed suicide. No one can really understand his reasons and he left no note or explanation except one. Shortly after hearing the news of the suicide, the director received a letter from her father sent just days before he killed himself. It is very short and cryptic but might represent a clue. She returns to Germany and decides to document her search for the reasons for his decision. The ensuing search reveals much about life in East Germany before and after the unification with the West and a great deal about the STASI and the impact it had on the lives of East German citizens. She learns a great deal about her father but nothing to really explain his suicide. That might be frustrating for some but the truths revealed about an oppressive regime and how its people dealt with it during and after its demise is enlightening. A very good documentary that will leave you thinking about our current very observed daily lives. I will be off to see Oliver Stone’s film about Edward Snowden in a day or so and will see some of these same themes I suspect from an American perspective.